The Lion of Princeton (Riddlebarger)


Riddlebarger, Kim. The Lion of Princeton: B.B. Warfield as Apologist and Theologian. Lexham Press.

Classic Reformed apologetics is making a comeback, and who better to serve as the focal point than B. B. Warfield? This is an accessible version of Riddlebarger’s dissertation on Warfield.

Warfield the New Testament Scholar

In a somewhat ironic fashion, the man today vilified for defending inerrancy was attacked in his own days for opening a Pandora’s Box. Theodore Letis called attention to this fact. Warfield’s inductive, scientific approach to textual criticism, including his endorsement of Westcott and Hort, was no different from a liberal.


Riddlebarger argues that your opinion of Warfield’s apologetic method depends on how favorable you are to Scottish Common Sense Realism.

For Warfield, apologetics is an offensive, rather than defensive, science. It is theological prolegomena. Indeed, Warfield doesn’t hold back on his language: apologetics will “reason its way to the dominion of the world” (review of Bavinck’s De Zekerheid des Geloofs). Following Thomas Reid, Warfield’s project would look something like this:

a) Man as imago dei has the capacity for knowledge. Faith is complete trust in Jesus Christ, “about whom one must possess objective knowledge.”
b) We must establish the grounds of faith by evidences.

Warfield has five subdivisions
1) Philosophical apologetics–being of God
2) Psychological apologetics–man’s religious nature
3) Reality of the supernatural in history
4) Historical apologetics
5) Bibliological apologetics

Warfield’s focus is more on the resurrection than the proofs for God, which is also how the NT presents it. While such an approach might be probabilistic at points, Warfield applies the law of non-contradiction to Jesus’s claims, giving them an “absolute” character.

Warfield’s epistemology: He draws upon Calvin. Revelation provides the objectivee ground for our knowledge of God. The Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit provides the subjective ground. Faith is different from knowledge, not because the latter is “better,” but because the grounds of it is more direct. This lines up nicely with Warfield’s Scottish realism as “an element of trust is always present in our knowledge.”

Systematic Theology

“The Idea of Systematic Theology.” While much of this is standard prolegomena, Riddlebarger provides a nice graphic.

Contemporary Critics of Warfield

Concluding question: does common sense realism compromise Reformed theology? It’s not immediately clear how it does. Rogers/McKim say Warfield overlooked Calvin’s antipathy towards Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. But it’s not immediately clear what Common Sense Realism has to do with either. Indeed, if you want to trace a genealogy of common sense realism, you won’t go to Thomas or Aristotle. Rather, you would find it in Reformed guys like Dick, Thomas Chalmers, and William Cunningham (and Charles Hodge and Dabney and Thornwell).

Riddlebarger draws upon Paul Helm to note several advantages that the Reformed thinker would have seen in Common Sense Realism
1) A ready reply to skepticism
2) Everyone uses the same faculties for testing truth.
3) It is compatible with Baconian methods of inductivism without the problems of pure empiricism.

Faith and Reason

Instead of labeling people “closet Arminian,” let’s see what the greatest Reformed theologian of all time, Francis Turretin, said about reason. Turretin affirms for reason a “ministerial” authority, not a magisterial one. Reason is an instrument of faith.

Warfield doesn’t disagree with Kuyper that sin colors one’s reason. The problem is that Kuyper had so absolutized the difference between Christian and non-Christian that communication was rendered (at least in theory) impossible.


Riddlebarger successfully defends Warfield from the charge that he was a “rationalist.” He was anything but, and that on certain levels. Warfield was much closer to an empiricist, which by definition rules out rationalism. Riddlebarger calls attention to Wafield’s indirect dependence on Thomas Reid, and if genealogical arguments are to be trusted, Warfield bypasses Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle and drinks from Reid

About that Owen quote on private revelations

One of John Owen’s quotes is being memed on Facebook to the effect,

“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary and if they disagree they are false.”

What do continuationists such as myself make of this quote?  Has Owen powerfully refuted me?  Well, only if we are clear about what we mean by “agree” and “contradict.”  Let’s begin with the second half of Owen’s quote.

if they disagree they are false

First of all, what is a contradiction?  A contradiction is when one says A = ~A.  For example, the Bible says don’t murder but I got a private revelation from God saying it’s cool.  That is a contradiction and Owen’s quote holds good in this case.   However, in symbolic logic the proposition A  B is not a contradiction.  It is a conjunction.

The first part of Owen’s quote actually presents a challenge.  Well, it could present a challenge:

(1) If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary.

The most obvious rejoinder is, “Is that true?  Says who?”  I think the intent behind Owen’s claim is like the following:

(1*) Scripture is a self-contained totality whose content is synonymous with the term “revelation.”

If (1*) is true, then Owen’s claim obtains and continuationists are in deep error.  That means Revelation {R₁ } does not allow for any difference.  Still, one has to ask if that is indeed the case.  As it stands it is false. See:

(2) God speaks in natural revelation (Ps. 19:1-2).

Whatever else (2) means, it certainly means that there exists a realm of objective knowledge in creation to which we have intellectual access.  (1) and (2) do not contradict.  (1*) and (2) do contradict, but since the latter is in the bible and the former is not, then (1*) is certainly wrong and we can reject it.

But perhaps the cessationist can continue modifying his premise:

(1′) Scripture is the final moment of God’s special revelation, the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.

Now we are getting somewhere.  (1′) does present a challenge if it obtains. Is it correct?  Only if the term “Revelation” is being used univocally.  Continuationists have never claimed that Revelation is univocal.   Perhaps they are exegetically wrong for thinking that, but that’s a different subject altogether. Owen’s modified claim (1′) only obtains if everyone is using Revelation univocally.

But we can ask if the cessationist is consistent in his use of Revelation.  (1′) seemed to imply that the Bible was the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.  But what does the Bible say?

“In many and various ways God spoke to the prophets but in these last days he spoke to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1).

(3) Jesus is the final speaking-moment of God’s revelation.

(3) and (1′) contradict.  (1′) therefore fails.  It’s been probably ten years since I’ve read Warfield’s essays on Revelation, but if I recall, the idea of Jesus-as-Revelation appears (as it must, since it is in Scripture) but only as an odd duck.  It presents several problems for the cessationist argument:

(3a) If Jesus is the final moment of Revelation, which would seem to rule out modern-day prophets, then Jesus, revealing God before the writing of the New Testament, would also rule out the New Testament.